This research project involves the analysis of European glass and ceramic bottles that were smashed throughout the Tarapaca Valley. During the Pre-Contact period in Chile (before the arrival of the Spanish in 1540 A.D.) locally produced ceramic vessels were smashed as part of a native ritual tradition. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced a material culture that the native population had never seen before. Hundreds of sites in the Tarapaca Valley of Chile form our dataset and contain Pre-Contact ritually killed or deliberately broken vessels as well as Post-Contact bottles that were apparently smashed in a similar, ritualized way. An archaeological survey team associated with the Tarapaca Valley Archaeological Project discovered these bottles and used geographical information system software to chart their locations in the valley. The smashed vessel sites are found far from settlements where people lived.
The main anthropological question that this project aims to answer is the nature of the relationship between the exogenous Europeans and the indigenous Chileans during the colonial period (16th-19th century AD). I am using material culture as a means of examining action in a large landscape. In other words, the smashing of bottles is a portal through which I view attempts to create continuity through traditional ritual practices, while appropriating foreign material items. These bottles were not locally made and therefore represent material culture that was introduced by the Spanish.
Significance of Research
The smashing of imported bottles could be both a means of preserving and maintaining cultural identities and memories while at the same time acting as a means of resisting Spanish influence. Analogous processes continue in many parts of the world today. There are numerous instances of local or indigenous people and traditions incorporating external, sometimes “western” materials and images to create something entirely new and powerful. For example, after coming into contact with foreigners, a Native American tribe known as the Arikara selectively appropriated Euro-American material objects, including firearms, and as a result, developed an entirely new cultural identity. Understanding this process in the ancient past, offers a new perspective on our own time.
Although many scholars focus on the colonizer’s experience when studying colonial encounters, my research aims to illuminate the nature of culture contact by concentrating on indigenous agency, which plays a key role in structuring interaction between the two cultural groups. The analysis of historical archaeological artifacts in order to trace a possible continuity of native tradition has never been done before and can thus provide an additional perspective on the nature of contact between the Spanish and indigenous populations. By concentrating on the non-Western experience, this research project can broaden our perspective to develop a more synthetic understanding of culture clash in South America.